The fiscal concerns that led West Virginia University to announce widespread furloughs Friday have bled into the WVU athletic department. The coronavirus pandemic has stung the Mountaineer athletic program with a $5 million shortfall, which has forced it to make deep cuts of its own.
Several measures Athletic Director Shane Lyons announced Friday — including pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs — should save the department about $3 million in salary costs.
“We can sit around and say we were dealt a bad situation with COVID-19, but that doesn’t solve anything,” Lyons said. “We have to have a solution that’s action-oriented in dealing with this pandemic. A response and decisions were needed. We have a strong department with good employees. I’m proud of what and who we are and we’ll definitely get through this and be stronger in the long run.”
The WVU athletic department will furlough 65 employees for 60 days, starting May 24 and ending July 26. Some of those employees will not return. Also, current job openings — Lyons said there are about six in the department — will not be filled and there is a freeze on future hirings.
Lyons said the layoffs will come from the department’s roster of administrators and staff, not from its coaching pool. Some of those who will be laid off have been notified, and that process is ongoing.
Along with those furloughs and layoffs, those remaining will take salary cuts of varying degrees. Lyons, football head coach Neal Brown, men’s basketball head coach Bob Huggins, women’s basketball head coach Mike Carey and baseball head coach Randy Mazey each will take a 10 percent salary cut starting July 1.
Those in the department making $100,000 or more will take a 5 percent cut, while those making under $100,000 will take a 2.5 percent cut. The reductions would last through the 2020-21 fiscal year. The shortfall will not affect any current renovation projects in the athletic department, Lyons said.
The budget woes are due to multiple issues stemming from the pandemic. The Big 12 and NCAA men’s basketball tournaments were canceled. Conference and ticket revenue was lost due to the cancellation of the spring athletics season. The normal level of donations to the Mountaineer Athletic Club also wouldn’t be met.
With Friday’s announced moves accounting for $3 million of the shortfall, Lyons is looking at other areas to make up the other $2 million. One avenue he mentioned was non-conference scheduling for the university’s Olympic sports — looking at making trips by bus rather than by flying and using a regional strategy.
Then there is the quest to increase revenue in the time of pandemic. Lyons said the university continues to explore selling the naming rights to the WVU Coliseum, the Monongalia County Ballpark and other facilities.
One of the largest revenue streams for the athletic program is its broadcasting deals through the Big 12 and through its local agreements. Big 12 teams earned nearly $39 million each for the 2018-19 school year. That money comes largely from college football broadcasts, and there have been numerous opinions about how the sport should proceed in 2020. Some suggest postponing the start until later in the fall. Others suggest splitting the schedule between the fall and spring.
Lyons said he remains hopeful that college football will start on time — Aug. 29 for a handful of teams and Sept. 5 for WVU and the rest.
“Our focus on right now, really both from the conference as well as the football oversight of the NCAA, is the return to practice,” said Lyons, who is chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee. “What does that look like? What protocols do we need to put in place that meet the local, state and federal guidelines on testing?
“The first step we were taking was how long would that time period be,” he added. “I think we’re looking at anywhere from four to six weeks before the first competition that we have to have the athletes back on campus and able to train.”
Lyons added the universities wouldn’t do themselves justice if it didn’t have contingency plans in place. They’re in discussion, the oversight committee meeting weekly and Big 12 administrators meeting multiple times a week.
“There’s a lot of moving parts right now,” Lyons said, “and unfortunately no answers. It’s just not a matter of flipping the switch. … I think it’s still a little too premature to start coming up one way or another to say we’re going to play football or we’re not. I think as the time gets closer, we’ll have more intelligence to tell us from the medical experts and scientists here’s what you need to do to play football.”